Thursday, October 2, 2008

Behavior modification vs. life transformation, part 2...

Several days ago, I wrote about some of the reasons we see such a large number of kids leave the church once they graduate high school. My basic premise is that kids leave church once they get on their own for one main reason: growing up they were performing the way their parents and church leaders expected, but their hearts were not committed to Christ. In other words, the reality of what was going on in their hearts did not match their outward performance.

Once these kids get out in the "real world" they no longer feel the need to perform the same church duties. But they've learned that the way to be accepted is to perform for others, so they conform their actions to their new friends, classmates, co-workers, whoever. We've probably all seen kids who seemed to be grounded in their faith, but then went crazy once they left the cocoon of home and church. The problem is that their lives aren't really changed at the core of who they are.

That kind of change only comes when a person has an ongoing, personal, grace-based relationship with Jesus. So, the question is: how do we help kids develop that kind of relationship?

First, we need to go back to regular teaching of the gospel. Only the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. I'm afraid we've discounted the supernatural power of God to change us through the simple gospel. No amount of preaching about rule-keeping--whether it's:
  • church attendance,
  • devotional time,
  • tithing,
  • missions trips,
  • student leadership positions,
  • or whatever--
will change lives. Only the gospel (Christ's death for our sins, burial, and resurrection) can do that.

We need our kids to understand their place in God's family. They need to know that God is at work in them, to will and act according to His good purpose. They need to know that they've been given the Holy Spirit as God's promise that He will complete His work in them.

Why do they need to know this? Well, because it's true for one thing. Also, these teachings will help them get their identity from Christ, from what God has done and is doing in them. Otherwise, they'll get their identity from what other people think of them.

Second, we need to realize that large groups (of kids or adults) aren't designed for spiritual growth. It's way too easy for people to hide in groups, or go along with the crowd looking spiritual, without ever really experiencing grace-full growth.

Real edification happens when smaller groups of people commit to each other. For kids that begins when the parents commit to praying for their children and modeling a life dependent on Jesus. In the larger church, each of us must be committed to doing what we can to shepherd the little ones in our midst. Again, not teaching them to keep the rules, but helping them see Christian life as trusting and resting in Christ's work, and learning our true identity from Him.

What's clear to me is that doing this would require major changes in most traditional churches. In many churches, you can go for weeks, months, even years without hearing what the gospel means in the life of the believer. But Christians need to hear the gospel more than they need another "7 keys to having great hair" sermon.

Also, the "bigger is better" mentality doesn't lead to spiritual growth. You may get crowds, but you can't encourage real growth. Smaller groups of people, invested in each other are key to this working.

Last, notice how little I've said about church leaders, the pastor or youth minister. Raising up kids who are filled with God's grace and Spirit is the responsibility first of the parents, then of other adults and kids who are willing to invest time and prayer in the people around them. The pastor/youth leader has a place, but it's not primary.

Any thoughts?

If you got this far, you deserve this. I'm really starting to love this song. Great lyrics...

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